So the politicians can’t trust the people

Posted By: July 02, 2016

Patrick Murphy. Irish News (Belfast). Saturday, July 2, 2016

It appears that our society is suffering from the twin evils of democracy and independent thought. That is the reasonable conclusion we might draw from reaction to the Brexit vote, as expressed by many of those enjoying authority and self-imposed importance.

While the leaders of Remain graciously accepted the referendum result, some supporters have suggested that the great unwashed who voted Leave should stick to soap operas and sport and return democracy and thinking to their betters. (Lord, preserve us from the sin of original thought.)

In comments ranging from the offensive to the patronising, they fail to recognise that having lost the war through unfounded fear, they now appear intent on losing the peace through arrogance. The “How dare they” campaign is exemplified in Britain by Tony Blair, in the south by Dublin’s chattering classes and here by the SDLP and Sinn Féin.

Mr Blair invaded Iraq illegally, causing an estimated half a million deaths. Now he hopes for a second EU referendum, presumably because politicians cannot trust the people. Next week’s publication of the Chilcot Inquiry will show that the people who opposed his war were right not to trust Mr Blair.

It was the policies of Blair and Thatcher which decimated the social and economic fabric of the Labour heartlands and fuelled the anti-EU vote. It is evidenced in hundreds of towns where boarded-up businesses in the high street leave only bookmakers and money lenders as monuments to unregulated banking and the failure of the free market.

In perhaps the most insensitive comment of all, one Dublin commentator branded protesters against social deprivation as English nationalists whom, he claimed, had “carelessly” placed a bomb under the peace process here. Is Dublin’s middle class arguing that British families in poverty should not protest against their dependency on food banks, to preserve a hitherto dysfunctional and self-centred Stormont?

The SDLP’s reaction was also one of pontifical indignation. Eighteen years after leading The North into unconditional membership of the UK, it rejected the democratic will of its fellow UK citizens, claiming it was a Tory right-wing vote. This failure to understand the level of despair in contemporary Britain reflects Ireland’s unending historical ability to pick the wrong side in English politics.

When republicanism emerged in England in the 1640s (long before it arrived in Ireland) the Irish supported the king. During the Famine, Daniel O’Connell sided with prime minister, Lord Russell, in seeking repeal of the union. Russell ultimately ignored repeal and millions of Irish starved. When Thatcher was closing mines and factories, the Irish were blowing up English pubs.

The SDLP may also wish to reflect on its apparent stance that the referendum result was unrepresentative, because it did not reflect young people’s views. Is it rejecting the civil rights victory of one person, one vote, by arguing that I, and those of my generation who marched for civil rights, are second class citizens?

The Sinn Féin leadership was equally confused, but less patronising. Mary Lou McDonald rightly complained about the EU forming a United States of Europe, while Martina Anderson was protesting that she would not be “dragged” out of that same EU. (It’s not the English working people who are doing the dragging, it is the Good Friday Agreement. What part of consensual partition do SF and the SDLP not understand?)

Meanwhile, Martin McGuinness welcomed the unelected Queen but Gerry Adams was most unwelcoming towards the democratic decision of ordinary British people. It would appear to be an unusual interpretation of republicanism and a situation not far removed from the 1640s.

Sinn Féin’s challenge now is to stay in government with the DUP while trying to soften the forthcoming economic border. Ultimately, it will stay in the Stormont executive. The alternative is to become an anti-agreement element.

In April, this column argued that the EU referendum was a scam, because the Leave option was so vague that the electorate had no idea what it meant. As opinion swung towards Leave, it suggested that Remain might consider joining the European Economic Area (which contains Norway and Iceland) or associate EU membership.

It was not exactly a popular proposal, but Remain supporters are now scrambling for something similar. They will not succeed unless they recognise that thinking against the grain is neither a failing nor a cause for insult. A century ago, original thought in defiance of accepted wisdom would have prevented thousands of deaths at the Somme.

One hundred years from now, people will hopefully celebrate this generation’s ability to think independently and they will presumably wonder at the parties and people who scorned the idea.